Fed judge reinstates MT $ limits on political-party donations - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Fed judge reinstates MT $ limits on political-party donations

Jon Motl, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (MTN News file photo) Jon Motl, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (MTN News file photo)

A federal judge has reinstated Montana’s limits on how much money political parties can give to candidates, while a federal court considers an appeal of his ruling that voided them.

In an order signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell agreed to “stay” or postpone his ruling of two weeks ago that the limits are an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

The state plans to appeal Lovell’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But now, while that appeal proceeds, campaign contributions to state candidates, from all sources -- individuals, political-action committees and political parties -- will still be subject to limits for the 2016 election.

“The judge and the state still disagree, as to the merits of (his) underlying ruling,” Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl told MTN News Thursday. “But the judge did a very commendable action with his stay. … It brings stability to the contribution limits for the 2016 election, and for that, the people of Montana thank him.”

On May 17, Lovell struck down all of the limits, which became law when Montana voters passed a 1994 initiative.

In the wake of the ruling, Motl said Montana will revert to pre-1994 contribution limits, which are higher for most offices.

But he said the pre-1994 limits for political party contributions could not be used, because they were too low.

The state then asked Lovell to “stay” his order on the political party limits, arguing that the current limits should stay in place while the state appealed the order, to avoid unlimited giving by parties during the 2016 election.

The current limits allow political parties to give up to $23,850 to a gubernatorial candidate, and lesser amounts to other candidates.

Lovell said in his Wednesday order that those limits are “closer” to complying with the constitution than the pre-1994 limits, and it’s not an unreasonable request to maintain them while the case is appealed.

“Issuing the stay will permit (Motl) to enforce what he sees as the lesser of two evils … and should promote stability during the partial appeal,” Lovell wrote.

Republican Party leaders said the order perpetuates a system that the state Democratic Party is using to spend unlimited money on state candidates, by paying for staff to work on candidate campaigns.

The practice, however, is available to the Republican Party as well, and has been approved by Motl’s office.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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